By Roger Kimball
August 19, 2013
On the links, naturally. Cairo is a long way away. No one there votes in the U.S. presidential election (not yet, anyway), so why shouldn’t the Leader of the Free World respond to the crisis in Egypt by decamping to Martha’s Vineyard, thus reinforcing his reputation as a latter-day Alfred E. Neuman? Why should he worry about Egypt, the churches being burned, the Christians being murdered, the chaos in the streets as the Egyptian military desperately attempts to deal with the anarchy that the Obama administration helped midwife with its support of the Muslim Brotherhood?
As Youssef Ibrahim noted yesterday, one of the many things going up in flames because of the conflagration in Cairo is the reputation of President Obama. “In the past 48 hours alone,” Ibrahim reported, “some 57 Egyptian churches have been burned to the ground in the Nile valley. It will not be lost on the Egyptians that Mr. Obama has spent the crisis playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard.”
Obama took a moment from his days of fun and frolic to hint that the $1.5 billion in aid that the U.S. supplies to Egypt might be in jeopardy if the Egyptian military continues to take its hard line against the Muslim Brotherhood and its effort to establish Islamic totalitarianism in Egypt. But as Ibrahim notes, that threat loses a bit of its sting when placed against the $12 billion committed by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates last month.
Near the beginning of his first term, Obama, a bit like Cleopatra on her barge of burnished gold, floated into Cairo and told the world that he had come “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
Tolerance and dignity for all human beings, except for Jews, Christians, and other infidels, not to mention women, homosexuals, and those who have been enslaved by Muslims. Apart from them, there’s tolerance and dignity galore.
I have long been fascinated by the spectacle that Barack Obama presents to the world. I do not, it pains me to acknowledge, understand the nature of the spell he exerts over otherwise intelligent and well-meaning people. Where some of my left-leaning friends see a cool-headed pragmatist (“pragmatist” is the accolade of choice for reasons I find puzzling), I see horrifying failure that I have alternately put down to stupefying incompetence, on the one hand, and Alinskyite malevolence, on the other hand. It was a sobering day when I realized that incompetence and malevolence, far from being mutually exclusive, could easily cohabitate and nurture each other.
But back to Cairo. I was sitting in Judge Robert Bork’s living room a couple of Februarys back when the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets to demand Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The television was on and it was then that I was treated to my first exposure to James Clapper, our “director of National Intelligence,” who was briefing members of Congress on the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is, he explained with a straight face, a “largely secular organization,” with no “overarching agenda.”
Ha, ha, ha! What a card. Clapper of course had to know that an organization called the Muslim Brotherhood — theMuslim Brotherhood, Kemo Sabe, not the Friends of Egypt or the Cairo Clan or the Alexandrian Quartet — he had to know that the Muslim Brotherhood was a fraternity of Muslims, i.e., that it was not, by definition, “largely secular,” but on the contrary was explicitly committed to advancing Muslim, i.e., religious, i.e., non-secular ends. Clapper recently admitted to lying to (“misleading”) Congress about the extent of NSA domestic surveillance. But was his testimony about the Muslim Brotherhood another example of mendacity, or was it merely incompetence? Again, I do not present these possibilities as mutually exclusive.
Absent countervailing evidence, I assume that Clapper knew better about the character of the Muslim Brotherhood, just as I assume he must have known, since he was director of National Intelligence and was steeped to the gills in things Muslim, that the Muslim Brotherhood subscribed to one of the most overarching of overarching agendas, namely the imposition of Sharia, i.e., Islamic law, everywhere. How do we know this? The Brotherhood has been very accommodating in explaining its goals. You don’t need an advanced degree in hermeneutics to unravel their credo. They spell it out clearly for you: “Allah is our objective. The Koran is our law. The Prophet is our leader. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. Allahu-Akbar!”
Allahu-Akbar: where have you heard that before? Oh right. Someone shouts “Allahu-Albar” (“Allah is the greatest”) and then opens fire, killing as many infidels as he can. Not to worry, though. What we’re dealing with here is notIslamic violence. No, no. Take Fort Hood, for example, where thirteen people were slaughtered (and another 30 wounded) by Major Nidal Hasan. “Allahu Akbar,” he said, and then bang, bang, bang.
Just as James Clapper described the Muslim Brotherhood as “largely secular,” so the Obama administration has insisted on denominating the Fort Hood massacre as an instance of “workplace violence,” not a terrorist act, thus depriving its victims of Purple Hearts. Major Hasan, who is acting in his own defense, seems to disagree: “We mujahedeen,” said this Muslim member of the U.S. Army, “are trying to establish the perfect religion.” Ergo? Ergo, he had to murder as many U.S. soldiers as he could.
It is impossible to regard the events unfolding in Cairo without profound misgivings. But the sad truth is that the Obama administration, through its thoughtless Islamophilic posture, has helped precipitate the chaos the Egyptian military is now endeavoring to contain. Hosni Mubarak was not George Washington. But he was a friend of order who made peace with Israel and was a reliable ally of the United States. His successor, Mohamed Morsi, was an Islamic totalitarian. The military coup displacing Morsi — and let’s be clear: it was a coup — may be the best chance for any real liberalization of Egyptian society. The army, as Robert Reilly observes, is doing what the Wehrmacht ought to have done in the 1933: overturned a popularly elected government whose goal was to end popular elections. As Andy McCarthy put it with his customary cut-to-the-chase, “a pro-Western military may be the best chance for sowing true democracy” in Egypt. The harvest, if it comes, will be a long way off. It may be news to the Obama administration, but McCarthy is right:
Egypt has never had a democracy, so there is no “restoring” it. Pragmatically speaking, the country has two alternatives: (a) a rapid resort to popular elections, which are certain, once again, to empower Islamic supremacists (who have proved, in election after election, that they appeal to a significant majority of the populace); or (b) military rule through an appointed technocratic government. The former would crush any hope for real democracy. The latter, at least potentially, could force a new consensus constitution that requires equality under the law and respect for minority rights; that delays popular elections until secular democrats are better positioned to compete with Islamic supremacists; and that requires convincing acceptance of the new constitution and renunciation of violence as a precondition to participation in elections.
When it comes to Egypt, there is a lot of blame to spread around. The American people seem to be waking up to the shocking news that a large part of the blame for what is happening on the streets of Cairo — and for what happened in Benghazi and what is about to happen in Syria and Iran — must be laid at the door of the stupid “smart diplomacy” promulgated by the Obama administration.
They eagerly embraced the fairy tale of the “Arab Spring.” When that spring turned out to be blood-red instead of pacifically verdant, their reaction has been one of confusion, obfuscation, scapegoating, and denial. America’s reputation has probably never been lower in the Middle East than it is now. It turns out that there is leadership, on the one hand, and “leading from behind,” on the other. Obama explicitly embraced the latter. The ensuing catastrophes are too multifarious and too profligate of blood and treasure to conceal for long. In the case of Obama, anyway, incompetence and malevolence have shaded into each other to form a single toxic confection. The narcissist-in-chief still moves from playground to playground in the world’s most extravagant caravan. But his distance from the realities he has foisted upon the world is exceeded only by an arrogance bordering (on the wrong side of the border) on hubris. Hubris, as the Greeks knew, is followed reliably by Nemesis. A foreign policy that has sparked chaos in the Middle East, resentment among our allies, and belligerence among states like Russia and China, a domestic policy that nurtures the fiscal madness of “green energy” and and the statist innovations of Obamacare: Nemesis cannot be far off.
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images